Dear Prince Charles,
Your appreciation of Transylvania's unique ecosystem is well known and, after your first visit to the region in 1998, you said you were "totally overwhelmed by its unique beauty and its extraordinarily rich heritage." But something terrible is about to happen in Transylvania -- a vast open cast cyanide mine -- and I urge you to lend your voice to those who are trying to prevent a catastrophe.
The proposed gold mining project at Rosia Montana will erase three pristine villages and four mountains from the face of the planet, creating a sterile zone the size of a small city that will be contaminated for millennia. The investors plan to build a 185 metre high dam (higher than the Three Gorges Dam in China) that will contain 214 million tons of cyanide waste. The threat to the region's groundwater supply, and the Danube River, are serious.
Even though the project has been blocked by local courts over the last 15 years, and does not have an environmental permit, the current Romanian government have introduced a law which seems to have been written by the cyanide miners themselves. The law will give them extraordinary powers, allowing them to sweep aside all environmental and heritage protection regulations. It is currently waiting for parliamentary approval and there is no time to be lost.
Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), an offshore investment fund, have carried out one of the most brilliant PR campaigns ever seen in Europe and most Romanians now believe their promises of local jobs, taxes and environmental protection. For many years now RMGC has been one of the biggest advertising spender in Romania and it is very difficult for the opposition movement to get their perspective into the mainstream media. One Romanian journalist told me they were forbidden to use the word "cyanide" in any article about the project. As a result, the Romanian public are not aware of the risks.
I first became aware of the international scale of this PR campaign when the former European editor of the Economist told me that RMGC had one of the most impressive international PR campaigns that he had ever seen at their editorial offices in London. An important part of RMGC's international campaign was a high budget documentary film that was presented by Phelim McAleer, a former Financial Times correspondent to Romania. The film explains that cyanide mining is harmless and the real problem is the environmentalists.
In Romania, one of the most effective things the cyanide miners did was to invite a large group of senior Romanian journalists to New Zealand to see a cyanide mine for themselves, an action that consolidated the support of much of Romania's mainstream media. Protests against the mine are taking place in London, Bucharest and 25 other European cities, but the Romanian media have portrayed them as "hipsters and druggies".
Cristian Tudor Popescu, one of Romania's best political writers, described his experience of RMGC's PR campaign:
"I see every day on the TV and in the papers how big, bitter and lacking in scruples is the Gold Corporation's propaganda campaign. At peak viewing hours, when one second of airtime is worth a small bag of gold, they bring poor people from the affected area to weep in front of the cameras...I can't forget the image of a middle aged lady who said she couldn't afford to feed her children. She also mentioned that she had a short term contract with RMGC, even though the project hadn't begun. Message: if the project starts she, as well as 450 others, will have long term contracts and will be able to feed their children...
"I am not in a position to draw any economic or ecological conclusions about Rosia Montana, but I can make a logical observation: when someone spends tons of gold, year after year, to convince the public that they want to do something good for them - but not for themselves - you can surely expect something bad to happen further down the line."
I ask you to help the Romanians in their hour of need as you are really appreciated in this south east European country. Many Romanians are ashamed of their poverty and corruption and the fact that you speak highly of their unique rural way of life, and that you have invested in a couple of homesteads in Transylvania, is seen as an important vote of confidence.
Rupert Wolfe Murray is a writer and editor from the Borders Region of Scotland. He currently lives in Bucharest, Romania.
London protest information here.